Chapter 43

Though there were many similarities between Chad and Vince, their social obliviousness was slightly different. Vince understood things like dressing up and fashion existed, but he was never too certain on what the rules were or how to do it appropriately. Chad, on the other hand, was able to catalogue the data he observed in how people dressed themselves on various occasions and construct a rudimentary understanding of what was appropriate to wear for different social situations. The reason he rarely used this knowledge was that he usually didn’t care enough to bother. The night of his first date with Angela was a notable exception.

Reconstructing his body back to its usual appearance had been a relatively easy task. Rather than dissolve the bone armor back into various minerals and merge them back into his body, Chad had found it more efficient to simply molt off the excess growths. He could always ingest more minerals and supplements, but molting had been a five minute process, compared to around a five hour one, of reintegration. Generally, the time wouldn’t have mattered. This night was, once again, an exception.

Chad stood in his dorm room, looking into the mirror he rarely used for more than a few minutes at a time. Most mornings he merely glanced in it, willed his hair into the same arrangement and style he had it in every day, and then proceeded to brush his teeth. Currently, he was wondering if he should change something. Was it appropriate to go into a situation like this with normal hair? He knew changing clothes was expected, and he’d heard people often got haircuts before large events, but he wasn’t certain if such large scale alterations were expected of him.

It was uncertainty that plagued him, a feeling he was unaccustomed to and very uncomfortable with. Perhaps he should have paid more attention to dating and acclimating to the normal world back in high school, when ignorance was the expectation of all involved. He wished he had someone to guide him on this issue. There might be time to call Shane, however Chad suspected that his friend would not have much more experience with this than him. That was, after all, part of why they were friends in the first place. Chad wondered if Roy was still the dominant personality in his body; the fellow-bartender was undeniably an expert on social expectations.

Before Chad could reach for his cell phone, it began to chirp a ringtone. He picked up the diminutive device and accepted the call.

“Hey, Hot Stuff,” came Angela’s voice. “I’m in the parking lot, come on down. And don’t keep a lady waiting.”

“I’ll be right there.”

Chad cast one last glance in the mirror and willed a few stray hairs to change position. He didn’t know if it was good enough, but it seemed this would have to do.

 *              *              *

“What?” Violet yelled, the fierce whir of the blender choking out nearly every other sound that tried to break into her area.

“I asked where we should put the sleeping bags!” Alice hollered, repeating herself for the third time. She and Mary had just arrived at the house, finding Jill and Camille on the couch while Violet focused on getting some lime green concoction in the blender to the exact perfect degree of icy consistency. The sound from the struggling motor echoed off the tiled kitchen walls and bounded into the living room, making any speech at all nearly impossible.

Finally the furious blending came to a stop as Violet pulled off the lid and stuck in a straw to test consistency as well as flavor.

“We put ours on the floor,” Camille said, once the sound ceased. She’d been able to make out the question; however she hadn’t been willing to produce the level of noise it would take to be heard over such a racket. Alice glanced over and realized there were already three sleeping bags laid out in the area between the couch and the television.

“Why are there three? Violet and Jill have beds,” Alice pointed out.

“We do, but it sort of takes all the fun out of it if you go up to sleep alone,” Jill pointed out. “Besides, we figured the more of us that are here, the better a chance that Mary will slip into someone’s dream.”

“I appreciate the gesture,” Mary said, walking over to the living room area and setting down her own sleeping bag. “But I need to be touching someone to walk into their dreams. That’s why Alice and I are going to tie our hands together before we go to bed.”

“You’ve only dream-walked into people you’re touching so far,” Jill said. “No sense in not seeing what happens.”

“I suppose it couldn’t hurt,” Mary acquiesced. She laid her bag down next to a gray one with green stripes.

Alice promptly came over and set hers down next to Mary, also setting out the long piece of cloth they’d procured to bind their hands together with later on. On top of that she set down a case of soda and a bag of chips. Despite the fact that they’d more or less been told they were coming here, Alice couldn’t allow herself to come to a social gathering without bringing something along. Etiquette drilled deeply into her body simply would not permit such slights.

“Hey Jill, you live here now, is there a place I should stick the drinks?” Alice asked.

“In your belly!” Violet announced, walking into the room clutching an assortment of glasses, all filled with the icy lime green concoction from the blender. “Oh, you meant the soda. That can go by the fridge, we’ll make room in a minute. First, margaritas!”

Alice had drunk margaritas before, expertly crafted cocktails meant to tickle the taste buds while not overpowering one’s palette. None of them had been this shade of almost fluorescent green. Still, she accepted the glass without any objections. She’d learned during the beach week that when Violet was set on having fun, fun would be had whether anyone else liked it or not.

The others took theirs too, though Alice suspected Mary and Camille’s glasses would be covertly emptied when no one was looking. Then again, Camille had put away an impressive few shots at Six-Shooter, so who was to say.

“A toast,” Violet said, raising her own glass high into the air. “To training, to friends, and to those of us who are still here. May we be able to toast together again in a year’s time.”

All four women clinked their glasses, took tentative sips, and tried very hard not to cough and choke at the overpowering taste of tequila.

“Perfect,” Violet managed to stammer out between barely suppressed gags.